Somewhere between their White Coat Ceremony and Capstone, ICO students may discover something even more life-changing than the profession of optometry: the love of their life. A few of the many ICO couples through the years shared with ICO Matters what brought them together and how they have built their families and optometric practices since graduation. Although every couple’s story is unique, the ones featured here share the common thread of supporting their spouse through school and beyond. Each realizes how fortunate they are to navigate life with someone who shares a love of optometry and patient care.
Nick Collatrella, OD ’06, and Stacy Hinkemeyer Collatrella, OD ’06
Married since: 1998
Their story: Their first week on campus, Nick and Stacy were part of a group outing downtown to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. There, they began getting to know each other. They remained just friends and study partners for a while before their romance began the following spring.
“I realized right away that she made me a better student and we worked well together in a learning environment,” Nick says. “We could bounce ideas off one another, and that blossomed into a more in-depth relationship.”
Stacy agrees, adding that Nick made her a better student. “He was always the nerd who sat in the front row and he would encourage me to sit up there, too.”
Both of them look back very fondly on their years at ICO, in particular the EyeBall during their fourth year. They rented a limousine for the formal event with two other couples; all are still friends today. In fact, Stacy’s roommate, Jeannette Carbone, ended up marrying Nick’s roommate, Jeffrey Varanelli (see their story below.)
After ICO, Nick and Stacy accepted residencies together at the Cleveland VA. However, before they left Chicago, Nick had one thing to take care of. He took Stacy back to the Shedd Aquarium and proposed, presenting her with the ticket stub from that very first visit when they met.
Their life today: The Collatrellas live in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with their daughter (age 13) and son (age10.) They own the Pinecone Vision Center, which recently moved into a brand new building.
Words of wisdom: “If you can find that special person who shares your passion–and you can share your personal life and business life with them—what a lucky thing for you,” Stacy says.
Nick agrees, “To be able to work with someone day in and day out whom you trust, admire, respect and love… there’s nothing better than that.”
Todd and Deon Bogard-Erickson (OD ’92)
Married since: 1991
Their story: As with many love stories, the Ericksons’ story began with a good wingman. During his pre-enrichment program, Todd became friends with another student, Mark Park, OD ’93. Park wanted to introduce him to a young woman named Deon coming to ICO from his undergraduate program at California State University, Fullerton. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“My palms started sweating when I met her,” Todd recalls. “We would have started texting but there were no phones then, so we just started hanging out together.”
On their first date, the Hard Rock Café in downtown Chicago, Todd says he made sure to order the hamburger with avocado. Deon was from California and he wanted to impress her with his West Coast-inspired choice. Another time, she made him quesadillas in her dorm room toaster oven, which he says, “sealed the deal.”
Both Deon and Todd treasured their time exploring Chicago together and trying to find new places to study, such as the University of Chicago and Northwestern Law libraries. They got married the summer after third year.
Looking back, Deon says she knew Todd was someone special when she met him. “When we started hanging out, I thought, ‘Wow. This is why I’m here.’ ICO gave us an excellent education, amazing careers and, best of all, each other.”
Their life today: The Ericksons live in West Palm Beach, Florida, with their three daughters (ages 22, 19, and 16.) Todd took over a group practice his father started, while Deon owned her own practice for many years until she sold it a year ago. She is now semi-retired and spends three days a week in the office.
Words of wisdom: Todd and Deon both agreed that working together in the same practice was not for them. They try not to bring work home with them, but they enjoy sharing stories of their day with each other.
“We bring some funny stories home,” Deon says. “We laugh a lot about what we do and how we met.”
Their story: Jeff and Kristy first met each other while Jeff was a TA at the optometry skills lab. Love began to bloom when they both volunteered for a contact lens study (worth $35) and stood in line together. Kristy invited him to go out with her and some friends that night; Jeff already had plans.
Fortunately, he got another chance to spend time with Kristy. They met again at the annual Big House Party. Jeff still remembers the exact date: November 15, 2001. They started dating each other shortly after that event.
Both of them recall very fondly their days hanging out with friends at ICO, and all of the great memories and friendships that were made. Jeff and Kristy were married in 2005 at the Sears Tower surrounded by many dear ICO friends.
Their life today: Jeff and Kristy bought four practices in Sycamore, Illinois, and merged them into Spex Expressions, a private practice they own and operate together. In addition to growing their business, they have also been busy growing a family and enjoying time together.
Words of wisdom: Both of them say it is a blessing to work together and share the same vision of providing great optometric care to patients. Nevertheless, Jeff and Kristy agree that seeing patients on opposite days at the office provides them with much-needed space to keep some distance between their personal and professional lives.
“Be sure that you have a good balance in life,” Jeff says. “I could go to work and come home and focus on optometry and our business all night, but it is good to have other hobbies and passions in life.”
“As a couple working together you have to be really good at communicating,” Kristy adds. “There are going to be stressful things that occur in running a business and life but if you have open dialogue you can overcome anything together.”
Their story: The Varanellis are good friends with the Collatrellas, and their story also is very similar. They started hanging out with a big group of friends and realized there was something a little deeper between them.
Both of them say Chicago and its sights played a big part in their romance. For their first date, Jeffrey took Jeanette to Chicago’s famous Rosebud Italian restaurant for her birthday. The traditional Italian waiters sang to her and gave her delicious tiramisu with a candle on it. When it came time to pop the question, Jeffrey asked Jeanette at the top of the John Hancock Building.
“When I talk to first years during orientation, I tell them to study hard but realize you have to have fun,” Jeffrey says. “I always end with a statistic from my class- that about 20 percent of us married someone from our class or another at ICO. So, I tell them it’s pretty likely you might be sitting next to your spouse when you’re sitting in anatomy class that first year.”
Their life today: Jeanette is the chief of optometry at the Detroit VA, while Jeffrey is in an ophthalmology private practice. They live in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, with their 13-year-old twin son and daughter.
Words of wisdom: The Varanellis agree it is important for optometrist couples to be supportive of each other in school and beyond.
“Take care of each other during the stressful times,” Jeanette says. “There are lots of ups and downs in this profession. You are fortunate to have someone to commiserate with and work through the difficult situations with. Be supportive of each other.”
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer based in suburban Chicago. She may be reached at Jacqueline.firstname.lastname@example.org